There have been many times that I’ve faced landscapes which felt utterly surreal even before my own eyes, but my first trip to Mount St. Helens might be the most surreal landscape thus far.
As photographed as this location is, I fear that not a single picture can accurately describe the feeling of its imposing presence as you stand before it. Not only the mountain, but the severely scarred landscape around it just tells a gripping story of regrowth that you can literally witness with the passage of time. It’s this sense of awe and fascination with the natural world which I seek and try to provide to others. It’s what I hope to provide to those who may be reading this who may not already have this appreciation.
That being said, I’ve taken up two projects that I’m looking forward to. The first, and quickly approaching, is to teach a group of about thirty 6 – 12 year olds the value of forest ethics. Not only will I be teaching them in basic Leave No Trace (LNT) fundamentals, but also the proper method to put out fire. And considering the age range, there will be fun and games to go along with instruction! I’m hoping it’s not only fulfilling for me, but at least one of them learns something they won’t forget.
The second project should be happening in October at the Vancouver Community Library. I’ll be hosting a book reading of sorts where the goal is to inspire awe and wonder of the natural world in those in attendance. There are many things in nature which are amazing, but we generally take for granted as they seem like an everyday occurrence to us, such as a rainbow.
My hope is to enhance the scientific literacy of young people (adults too if they come) and to encourage a desire to learn about the natural world so they, too, can experience the magic of reality.
As we break for the 4th of July holiday, “It’s all downhill from here…” my supervisor mentions. The summer solstice has passed and I too have reached the midpoint of my internship with the Forest Service via the Mt Adams Institute VetsWork program. So far I have explored a plethora of places I have never been before and have made some new friends along the way. Not to mention getting some awesome training with some chainsaws.
Up ahead, I still have big plans for the White Oak Trail and the Woodchuck Trail which have become the focus of most of my attention outside of my regular duties. I plan on getting some heavy equipment certifications, as well; which I am pretty excited about. Some days, as I ponder over the historical natural areas and their beauty, it’s easy to forget this is work. But, the job we accomplish each day leaves our parks and recreation areas more beautiful than before and it’s something to be proud of.
On a 93 degree day, nobody wants to do trail work or any type of hard labor outside. It seems on the 29th and 30th of June I lucked out and landed an opportunity that provided a cool environment and a lot of sunshine. Eurasian Milfoil. Yes, an aquatic invasive plant species was the reason I spent two entire days canoeing and trenching through Coldwater Lake, getting badly sunburned and shivering until my lips turned blue. Not to mention, our crew for the project was so cool, I can say this is an experience that I will not forget.
Monday the 29th started with a 2 hour drive to the lake. I was pretty excited for this project, not just because it was 93 degrees and I was dying to get out on the lake; but it was a different type of opportunity that I haven’t experienced yet. It was a chance to learn about species inside of a lake that was formed from the result of a volcanic blast. Although we focused heavily on Eurasian Milfoil, I was with a fish biologist and a group with plenty of experience identifying aquatic plants.
The first day was a recon day where I met with a couple of plant experts from Skamania County who provided me with a lesson in Milfoil and the various other plants growing at 20ft depths in the lake. We paddled along the West, South and North shore of Coldwater Lake plotting points of plant species by dragging a rake connected to a rope and looking through a tube with a clear lens on the end. Low tech devices, but highly effective. We were able to compare our results from a survey in 1998 and realize that the Milfoil levels have mysteriously gone down. Although I did not get my hands on these notes, we were briefed that it was a dramatic decrease in Milfoil in comparison to our findings. We were only able to find Eurasian Milfoil in and around the stream on the west end of the lake.
The following day we set up two 30ft nets at a marked point in the stream to create one giant net. This is where we broke into our job duties that included 3 forest service master divers, 3 people with hand nets collecting fragments of milfoil in the water and another three assisting the divers by collecting the milfoil that the divers pulled and placing them into mesh bags. By now, I imagine you are wondering why I haven’t completely described the problem with Eurasian Milfoil yet. Eurasian Milfoil is an aquatic invasive species native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It reproduces from small leaf fragments floating in the water and fragments very easily. It also destroys other plant life by pulling oxygen from the water and blocking sunlight. There are plenty of other details of this species, I just want you as my reader to understand that it’s invasive and a problem. It can also be spread by boats, boat trailers and water fowl.
My first duty was to follow one of our divers with a mesh net. He snorkeled through waist high water in the stream, pulling the milfoil by the roots where I followed up by placing the chunks of milfoil into a mesh bag. This went on for about an hour until the water reached up to my neck, where our diver traded out his snorkel for a couple of diving tanks. There wasn’t a whole lot of me moving around in this neck deep water and this lasted for about another hour. My movements were about 6 inch steps every 45 seconds. I eventually started shivering and I was told my lips turned blue. As you can imagine I was also told to get out of the water. I was a little bummed over that, but was relieved to go post up in the sunshine for a while. From there, my duty was to help out by netting fragments of milfoil in the water and also empty out mesh bags for our people that were assisting the divers.
Being out in the sun definitely had its perks; it helped me have a speedy recovery from getting cold in the water and it also felt so good considering I haven’t sat out in the sun like that since last summer. Then, I was told to get out of the water again. Apparently (which now I can really feel), my back was annihilated by the sun. I had already put on a huge amount of SPF 40 sunblock before coming out, but clearly my skin is not accustomed to that much sunlight. I was then told to hold out my arms and got sprayed with massive amounts of SPF 70. It actually smelled pretty good, but I’m not sure how long it lasted considering I went directly back into the water.
We finished up at about 4:30pm. By the looks of things, our manual pulling efforts have cleared Coldwater Lake of its Eurasian Milfoil problem. We then gathered up all supplies, took some soil samples to examine the volume of the soil that the milfoil was growing in and debriefed. We talked about methods that we found useful for pulling the weeds and also discussed how effective we thought our efforts were. Unfortunately in most cases a manual pull is not very effective for eradicating milfoil, but our observations of the milfoil not acting as invasively as it normally does is keeping our hopes up. It sounds like we may go back in August and see if the problem continues. I guess we can only keep our fingers crossed.
With our incredibly sunny/warm Spring season it seemed impossible not to notice all the awesome flowering going on everywhere! For the months of May and June (some of July) I’ve been and will be spending my time out on the Hood River and Barlow Districts of Mt. Hood.
Much of the initial work I was doing out here consisted of capturing all the campgrounds (condition surveys) which entailed traveling, essentially, the entire east side of Mt. Hood. The meadows out here are intense. I’m very much in love with the east side!
The folks out here are warm/welcoming and have afforded me opportunities for which I’m very grateful. I’ve worked a little bit with the east-side archaeologist and have some more survey work coming in July. This has been a special treat for me as it connects another avenue from my past to present that I’ve long since visited.
Enjoy Vetswork! Nature is good!
This past month has been really exciting getting to work in Wilderness areas. As an inspiring Wilderness Technician this hands on experience is making me appreciate them more and more. I love the whole wilderness character aspect of them and that it’s a place to get away from all the BS that life throws at you. They’re a place to get some solitude and gain that primitive feeling I enjoy. In the month of May I have been cleaning up the trail on both Rock Pile and Bell Mountain Wilderness with the help of 9 AmeriCorps crew members out of Denver. It feels good getting back into the leadership role and is great experience leading a trail crew working with crosscut saws and various other trail tools. Its hard work and I love it, getting dirty everyday going home feeling like I made a difference. I tell my crew that this job isn’t always sunshine and rainbows so don’t be afraid to get down and dirty. Below is picture taken at Bell Mountain Wilderness which covers 9,027 acres and is part of the St. Francois Mountains.
Here’s a picture of the crew heading into Rock Pile Wilderness to get some work done. In May, we brushed and logged out a 4 mile trail in the Rock Pile Wilderness, a wilderness area covering 4,131 acres. The crewmembers are between the ages of 18-24 both male and female and from all over the U.S. Their duty station is out of Denver, Colorado where they’ll report back to once their gig is up here in mid-July.
I have also gained my red card certification and am now a Firefighter Type 2 so I am really hoping to get out west this summer and get a fire under my belt. That would be a great experience and good way to get on with the U.S. Forest Service at the end of my VetsWork internship.
Here we are at the end of spring and at the beginning of summer. As the summer solstice approaches, the days are incredibly long and I am able to enjoy more sunsets. I do not know why, but even though I’ve been in Oregon for 3 summers now, I am still surprised by how late the sun sets here. Being that I am from Florida, the days in the northwest are much longer than the southeast –I believe it’s by a good hour or so. I love long days! They allow me to be outside more on a daily basis and my husband and I are able to enjoy at least a part of the day together after work. Plus, it’s no fun waking up when it’s dark outside.
I have finally found my groove in the office and am even accurately remembering names of the lovely people around here. I still can’t believe how nice everyone is and how willing to help out with things. I have remained quite busy these past few months and have continued to learn something new every day. I truly believe that if a person doesn’t learn something new every day, whether it is about themselves or about the world around them, then they are not living life properly. If you just realized you are one of these people – it’s not too late to learn something today! If you ever want to hear a random and often useless fact, I’m full of them.
Last month we had our Watershed Field Days for the area 5th graders and it was a lot of fun! It was nice to see the results of our work in trying to organize it this year. In total, there were nearly 800 students that were able to participate in learning about everything watershed related. The students were in eight groups and rotated between different stations throughout the day. They learned about water quality, plant identification, macroinvertebrates (as pictured below), wildlife, weather, soils, first foods, and stream stabilization. It was an exhausting yet fun filled week for me.
Thank you cards from one of the classes
Another event I was able to participate in was the Salmon Summit held in Kennewick, Washington. This is a celebration and learning day for the area’s 5th graders who have participated in “Salmon in the Classroom”. The kids would release the salmon raised from eggs in their class and release them into the river and afterwards spend the day learning from various presenters about salmon related matters. This was something that was looming since I started in February. At first it was a little intimidating to be asked if I could lead a 20 minute interactive presentation of my choice to multiple groups of kids. That day had come and I prepared a presentation from almost scratch. I decided to do an activity about invasive species of the Columbia River. In the beginning it was going to be how these invasive species affected the salmon, but that was a little easier said than done. It morphed into the most interesting invasive species of the Columbia River. While figuring out how I was going to pull it off, I decided to go with colorful and part interactive and part teaching. I ended up with 6 species and was able to turn it into a game of sorts. I posted the picture of the board I came up with. I’d read a story about the animal or plant and then have the kids in 6 different groups and they’d work together to put up the cards in the correct box. Pictured below is what the finished result would look like. It was fun and I think the kids enjoyed it. The teachers would even come and tell me that they learned something from it. I got help from another VetsWork member – Jonathane Schmitt who does the invasive species work around Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Interactive invasive species activity
Overall, it has certainly been an eventful past two months. We are gearing up for Natural Resource Career Camp for Young Women that takes place at the end of the month and then I’m off to Ukiah to tackle the wilderness portion of the internship – which will hopefully include more aesthetic forest/nature photos. I am also scheduled to attend Incident Qualification (a.k.a. red-card) training in a couple weeks and will be working alongside the GreenCorps crew on that.
My husband has been looking all over the western portion of the U.S. for permanent wildland fire positions. The good news is that he got a job! The bad news is that it’s 9+ hours away in Nevada. I want to finish the internship out so we’ll be living in different states for the time being. It’ll be hard but we’ve lived apart before and it probably won’t feel too different than a regular wildland fire season since he’s hardly home during that time anyways. The place he’s going to seems nice. Looks like it’s going to be high desert terrain which is similar to the area we’re in now. I’m looking forward the possible opportunities that I may have down there after the internship!
That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading!
A mentor from a non-profit once told me “People sometimes have bad attitudes towards volunteers due to lack of training and experience, but the truth is, these people are working 40 hour work weeks and volunteering weekends to make a difference. How many people actually do that?” The biggest question that I would have for that statement, which is a question for those of us who understand what they do, is how do we show them that we care? What can I do?
Volunteers at Get Outdoors Day in Vancouver, WA.
Working with volunteers is the majority of my job while interning for the Forest Service. These volunteers are mostly working full-time and selling their time off for a noble cause and a smile. One thing that a majority of my volunteers will get is education to complete their volunteer goals and a snack after the project is done. You might be asking who would ever return for that, and the answer might lie in a similar thank you that some of us vets received after volunteering to sign a contract to Uncle Sam: ‘Thanks for doing what you do’.
Work project during VetsWork Quarterly Training at Broadfork Farms.
So many people have said that to me while I was serving in the Air Force and it always felt so good. It left me with an overpowering proud feeling that I couldn’t describe to anyone else, unless they’ve been thanked in the same manner. But how many times have we said stuff like this to volunteers? Volunteers are often undervalued for their work. Like an underrated player in the NFL, they may not be recognized as much as the well known players, but the job could not be done without them. Volunteers are working full-time and giving away their time off without asking for anything in return. And how can we recognize them? We can recognize them by letting them know that they are making a huge difference and they are doing something that they should be proud of.
White Salmon Delta Riparian Willow Planting (Before and Current as of 5/2015)
I’ve had my first chance to thank volunteers for what they do. One in particular, I followed out to his car and thanked him one last time for giving a helping hand on painting the seasonal bunk houses followed by a firm hand shake. As he climbed into his car, he asked what we had going next and if our organization could contact him for the next volunteer opportunity. That ‘thank you’ may not be why he volunteered, but it might be why he’s planning to keep volunteering. That right there leads me to believe that saying ‘Thanks for doing what you do’ is how we can show our volunteers that we care. I don’t make enough money to throw a party for them to celebrate what we accomplished (like they deserve), but I can provide them with a genuine ‘thank you’ and let them know that their work is of huge value to us and the surrounding communities.
White Salmon Restoration Project
Hello all! Only a few months into my new internship with the Forest Service and all is going well. This internship is a time of exploration to learn what I like most and to get a better sense for career/college direction hereafter. I have had many opportunities already to connect with several departments with an array of activities and trainings. This includes work with administrative/clerical, archeology, engineering, fire, recreation, and timber.
Although I have had more exposure in some departments over others, I have begun to get an understanding of each one in itself. As time goes on, this will help me find my niche and reach my goal of deciding an area of study for the Forest Service or any other related agency. Soon, I will connect with other areas as well to further learning and keep this goal moving forward.
To be honest, in the back of my mind I do have an idea already of what I may like to pursue as a career. However, I am allowing all experiences/trainings and internship completion before choosing. My career choice needs to be definite. There are many traveling opportunities working for the Department of Agriculture and travelling to new places is a favorite pastime and I do welcome this…depending on where it is of course. Not sure what is to come at or near the end of my internship but am very grateful for this time spent with the VetsWork program on the Mark Twain National Forest gaining new skills and trainings to aid in my future.
I’ve known for a long time that I didn’t want to live anywhere in the U.S. other than the Pacific Northwest; whether that is Oregon or Washington. I just needed Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge to make that decision. But what I didn’t know was that there was a huge National Forest practically right next door that I hadn’t known to explore: The Gifford Pinchot National Forest. So naturally I had to explore when I got the chance.
When that time came, I drove to the Thomas Lake trailhead which would take me into the Indian Heaven Wilderness. I had planned for a one night backpacking trip and ended up going alone, unfortunately. My wife wasn’t able to join me this time. On the drive up Forest Road 65 it began to snow, which I had not expected. As I filled out my wilderness tag at the trailhead, I saw only one other filled out tag. The last person before me to walk the trail walked it a week prior. Needless to say, I was pretty excited for a raw wilderness experience.
The snow continued to fall as I hiked into the wilderness, passing multiple lakes early in the day. Due to large patches of old frozen snow, I lost the trail and ended up taking lunch. Still having not found the trail and after some map and compass work, I figured if I’d just climb a steep hill before me I should hit the trail again. So I did just that. It was actually steeper than it looked but I cleared it to find that it flattened out a bit on top. I soon left the dense trees and walked out into a damp opening.
The trail I was looking for was nowhere to be found, so naturally, I continued on (but not after turning around to find a defining characteristic of the location). After crossing the saturated clearing, I found a trail and took it north. The snow began to fall thicker and denser. There came a point where I had lost the trail altogether but was following old frozen tracks of the previous hiker. Soon, this became too difficult as I lost that trail as well which forced me to turn around. The snow hadn’t stopped falling which had me worried I might screw myself if I kept going like that. Instead, I began looking for a suitable place to set up camp. I ended up camping near Rock Lake.
I enjoyed the rest of my day exploring around my camp and even managed to find dry materials to use as tinder to start a fire. Drying my boots and pants was just what I needed.
As night began to fall, I retired to my tent to get some much welcomed sleep. When I woke up, I heard the sound of snow still falling on my tent. I poked my head out to see what there was to see, and learned that it had snowed all night. Talk about a winter wonderland!
Packing my gear proved to be a little challenging with all the snow, but once that was finished. I started on my way back. I’m glad I’d chosen to turn back when I’d lost the trail. The amount of snow easily would have covered my tracks to the point of potentially getting lost. When I finally made it back to my car, it was covered entirely. After some excavating and tire chain installing, I made my way back home after a successful outing!
It has never been clearer that I don’t want to leave the Pacific Northwest. Gaining access to work in this marvelous forest has reinvigorated that sense of place for me in this truly unique landscape that I call home. I plan on returning to the Indian Heaven Wilderness with my wife soon, I hope she enjoys it as much as I did!